McCain Leaning Toward Public Funding

McCain Leaning Toward Public Funding John McCain is taking steps that raise suspicions he’s leaning toward accepting federal matching funds in the fall.

In another sign that John McCain is moving toward accepting public financing this fall, the Republican’s campaign is returning about $3 million in checks to contributors who have given money for his general election campaign, funds he could not use if he opts into the public system. McCain’s campaign, in letters to contributors, is asking supporters to write new checks to a special fund created to help the Arizona senator pay legal and accounting expenses related to compliance with the public funding system.

The move is largely procedural, and McCain’s campaign said yesterday that it has not yet decided whether to accept public funding or to raise money on its own for the November presidential election. But the decision to return checks – which was made as the Democratic candidates announced raising $60 million combined in March, nearly as much as McCain had raised for the entire campaign through February – indicates that McCain is laying the groundwork for doing so.

“Senator McCain has made it clear that he expects to participate in the general election public financing system, and he hopes the Democratic nominee will do so as well,” Brian Rogers, McCain spokesman, said in a statement. “The campaign reserves the right to change course, but these developments reflect our current plans.”

Presidential candidates who opt into the public financing system receive taxpayer money to run their campaigns in exchange for agreeing to certain spending limits; they can raise money from private donors only for the “compliance fund,” not to run their campaigns. This year, a candidate who accepts the terms would be limited to about $84 million in spending.

Mark Salter, a senior McCain aide, said a decision on whether to accept the money was something they would deal with down the road. “There’s no reason to make that decision right now,” he said. “We wouldn’t get it until after the convention anyway.”

Frankly, he’d save the taxpayers $42 million if he just quit the race now. Barack Obama’s probably got $84 million laying around the office in checks he hasn’t bothered to deposit. McCain will likely be at a financial disadvantage either way but it would be political suicide to unilaterally disarm. Even with his problems with the base, he’ll be able to raise a couple hundred million if the alternative is Obama; more than that if Clinton somehow gets the nomination.

Graphic via The Page

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Uncategorized, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. davod says:

    The 527s will cover any shortfall.

  2. Michael says:

    Maybe he’s going to try and shame Obama into also accepting public financing, so as to even the playing field? I doubt McCain would do this unless the Dem nominee did as well, he’s not that stupid. But it might be a way to setup an “Obama won’t keep his promises” meme.

    Unless he’s been having some serious fund raising problems I haven’t been hearing about.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think Michael and davod both have a piece of the truth. There is also the advantage for McCain in pushing the meme about corruption and money in politics. Against Hillary, he has the donor scandals to leverage. Against Obama, he has the specter of a “new politics” candidate raising big bucks the old fashioned way.

    Then there is the question of style. McCain is not benefited by running a harsh campaign. One potential chink in his armor is a reputation for being to “feisty”. NYT tilted at this earlier, but fell flat on their face.

    On the other hand, a 527 (or whatever is the flavor of the election year) could run ads of Obama and Wright (imagine some of the Wright incendiary comments played against Obama quotes about ‘nothing controversial’), Obama and abortion, Obama and gun control, etc. There is no need to coordinate as McCain can appear above the fray and Obama can punch at shadows.

    Of course this strategy could back fire. With Obama going down the path of lying about his McCain (e.g. Iraq) and misleading voters (e.g. campaign contributions), if Obama is outspending McCain 5-1 telling lies that may be a difficult position to be in for McCain.

  4. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The lies Obama tells about McCain will not win him the office, but the truth about Obama will certainly cost him the election. Read his book, Dreams of my Father.

  5. jainphx says:

    He better get public funding, he ain’t getting a dime from me

  6. yetanotherjohn says:


    Sorry to hear your income is so low that you pay no taxes (directly or indirectly). Where do you think public financing dollars come from?

    The theory is that only those who check the box contribute, but the reality is that all taxpayers pay for it.